Sometimes, the strongest love people see in their lives are ones that never get off the runway. That appears to be the fate for Mary Rathcart (Alexandra Daddario) and Ben Gibbon (Diego Boneta), once teenage and young adult lovers in New York City. The issue? Their business magistrate families now led by William Rathcart (John Ralston) and Henry Gibbon (Stuart Hughes) have been in a centuries-old blood feud on par with the Hatfields and McCoys. To pull the two apart, the Rathcarts sent Mary to Paris under the watchful and distant eye of security agent Terrence Uberahl (Justin Chatwin)—who has an interest in Mary. Mary being gone leaves Ben distraught and in search of feeling that he only finds when getting his ass beat, eventually stumbling into Mexico and into a new friend, Mukul (Wade Allain-Marcus).
Circumstances return both Mary and Ben back to the Big Apple, unbeknownst to one another until locking eyes reignites the passion each once had for the other. Maybe the second time’s the charm, though Henry, William, Terrence, and even an Australian hitman named Wayne (Travis Fimmel) will all have a role to play in whether their second act has a happy ending.
Any of that sound familiar? Of course it does. Die in a Gunfight is a tweaked adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the love story as old as time. For all the versions of the star-crossed lovers shown in film, only 1961’s West Side Story and 1996’s Romeo and Juliet have the collective stamp of approval. And maybe there is a reason for that; as Shakespeare’s tragedy toggled often between comedy and romance, along with juggling multiple side characters and subplots. Often, those things come across better on the page versus on the screen, and Die in a Gunfight is evidence of the latter.
“DIAG” is the third feature in director Collin Schiffli’s catalog. Creatively speaking…there isn’t a lack of creativity or style in his movie. He opens with an animated sequence for Ben that gives way into normal live action, and it’s a method he uses with a modicum of frequency. Throw in a tendency to rewind/fast forward scenes and narration from the soothing voice of Billy Crudup, and Die in a Gunfight is what one could call visually propulsive in a sense, especially as it is only 92 minutes. The issue is that outside of the animated sequences, the directing tricks and “additions” come off more like a magician attempting to divert viewers’ attention from a wobbly, stagnant narrative to something shiny.
As previously alluded to, Shakespeare’s tragedy—probably at the benefit of the medium—can better balance a high volume of tertiary characters and partly incongruent elements. When the same has to be done with Die in a Gunfight, co-written by Gabriel Ferrari and Andrew Berrer, the end results aren’t quite as sterling. B stories involving megaconglomerate information mishandling and an assassin’s revenge are clunky in their inclusion. Too often, the tones and genres clash heavily to the point where it dilutes the central A romance story, which should be impossible to do in a film this short on runtime. DIAG was once on the famed Black List in 2010, housing “…the most-liked motion picture screenplays not yet produced.” And it bats around .400, great for an MLB player but not so much for Hollywood. For every Spotlight and Hell or High Water, there’s a Shut In, Dirty Grandpa, and Father Figures, movies that have spent much time on the list and have been in development hell so long that they likely end up losing whatever potential they did once have going through so many stars, producers, directors, etc.
In times of iffy execution and ill-fitting tones, a talented cast can elevate a movie up to a level it probably has no business being at. The problem is, the cast present in Die in a Gunfight isn’t that; they’re not necessarily untalented, they’re just not enough to overcome less-than-ideal writing. Fimmel, Ralston, and Allain-Marcus each feel like their characters were written for a different feature, a byproduct of the mismatched genre influences. But equally as important—if not more so, Daddario and Boneta are missing the needed chemistry/screen charisma to make what still amounts to a love story first and foremost worth buying into and getting all fuzzy for.
Maybe many moons ago, Die in a Gunfight, with a different approach and the original targeted cast hits its target as a rejuvenated take on Romeo and Juilet. As it releases in 2021, it doth leave a lot to be desired.
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